by PuckStopsHere on 01/22/10 at 12:17 PM ET
Over a week ago, the Stephane Auger/ Alexandre Burrows incident came to light. It is alleged that referee Stephane Auger warned Burrows before a game that a Burrows dive in a previous game had made him look bad and then proceeded to make a couple marginal to poor calls against Burrows in the game of that day to “even things up“. The NHL responded by fining Burrows for speaking to the media about the incident and then closed the books. More official NHL media have moved on and are trying to help the incident be forgotten. It is up to independent members of the blogosphere to keep the story alive.
Tom Benjamin wrote a good piece on how this issue should be framed. The issue is not about putting Burrows character on trial. The issue is not about how to punish diving. Those may be separate issues worth thinking about, but the issue that is brought to light is that referees (at least one) make a conscious decision to not be impartial in games. They plan to “go after” a certain player or players because of a personal vendetta and do not care if that changes the outcome of the game. This calls into jeopardy the idea that the game is officiated impartially.
The only defence for Stephane Auger is that his calls against Burrows were good calls. The calls against Burrows for diving and for interference must have been calls that would have been made regardless of the player involved and regardless of the circumstance. If this is not true, Auger is not refereeing in an impartial manner. There is very strong circumstantial evidence (you can see Auger talking to Burrows for a significant amount of time in the pre-game warm up - this is an unusual thing) along with Burrows claim immediately after the game and behavior of Burrows and Auger within the game which is all consistent with the claims. We cannot know exactly what Auger said to Burrows and that is not important. Criminal convictions often happen based on circumstantial cases without knowing the exact transcript of a conversation. So were the calls against Burrows good calls? They look marginal to me. Were they any more marginal than any other marginal calls in a game? That is hard to answer and if there is a conscious effort to “get payback” from Burrows that is immaterial. The idea that the defence for Auger is yes the calls were bad and he makes bad calls like that all the time is one that questions his competence as an NHL official.
What should be done? Obviously the NHL needs a longer investigation. They have been investigating the long contracts signed (potentially to circumvent the salary cap) for months and the Auger/Burrows investigation is over in hours. That seems inconsistent. The only result of the investigation is to punish the “whistle-blower” who brought the allegations to light. That is typical of a tyrant clinging to power (does that fit the NHL?). Auger gets off without as much as a public reprimand. It is reasonable to suspend Auger for some period of time, if he is not impartially officiating games.
Do not let this issue die. Impartial officiating is important to the NHL. It seems they would rather cover up problems than fix them and that is wrong morally and allows questions about the legitimate outcome of games into the future.
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